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Frederich Valentich

The Valentich disappearance refers to the unexplained disappearance on 21 October, 1978, of 20-year-old Frederick Valentich while piloting a Cessna 182L light aircraft over Bass Strait in Australia. He intended to land at King Island and return to Moorabbin Airport.

During the 127-mile (235 km) flight, Valentich advised Melbourne air traffic control that he was being accompanied by an aircraft about 1,000 feet (300 m) above him. He described some unusual actions and features of the aircraft, saying that his engine had begun running roughly, and finally reported that the "strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it's not an aircraft."

Valentich and his aircraft were never found, and an Australian Department of Transport investigation concluded that the reason for the disappearance could not be determined.

Belated reports of a UFO sighting in Australia on the night of the disappearance led Ken Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Transport, to tell Associated Press that "it's funny all these people ringing up with UFO reports well after Valentich's disappearance."


Frederick Valentich was born on 9 June, 1958, in Melbourne. He lived at home with his parents and three siblings and at the time of his disappearance, was a shop assistant at an army disposals store at Moonee Ponds.

He had twice applied to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force but was rejected because of inadequate educational qualifications. He was a member of the Air Training Corps, determined to have a career in aviation. His student pilot licence was issued 24 February, 1977, and his private pilot licence the following September. Valentich was studying part-time to become a commercial pilot but had a poor achievement record, having twice failed all five commercial licence examination subjects, and as recent as the previous month, had failed three more commercial licence subjects. He had been involved in flying incidents, straying into a controlled zone in Sydney (for which he received a warning) and twice deliberately flying into cloud (for which prosecution was being considered).

A firm believer in UFOs, Valentich had accumulated numerous articles about them and watched movies on the subject, and had told his father Guido that he was worried what UFOs could do if they attacked. His father told investigators that Frederick and his mother had watched a UFO move off at great speed, earlier that year.


Valentich had a Class Four instrument rating and 150 hours flight experience, when he filed a flight plan at Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne, on 21 October 1978. His stated intention was to fly to King Island in Bass Strait via Cape Otway, to pick up passengers, and return to Moorabbin. However, he had told his family, girlfriend and acquaintances that he intended to pick up crayfish. During the accident investigations, it was learned there were no passengers waiting to be picked up at King Island, he had not ordered crayfish and could not have done so because crayfish were not available anyway.

He was flying a Cessna 182-L, with a cruising speed of around 256 km/h (160 mph), and visibility was good and winds were light. He departed Moorabbin at 18:19, contacted the Melbourne Flight Service Unit to inform them of his presence, and reported reaching Cape Otway at 19:00.

At 19:06, Valentich asked Melbourne Flight Service Officer Steve Robey for information on other aircraft below (5000 ft, 1524 m) and was told there was no known traffic at that level. Valentich said he could see a large unknown aircraft which appeared to be illuminated by four bright landing lights. He was unable to confirm its type, but said it had passed about 1,000 feet (300 m) overhead and was moving at high speed. Valentich then reported that the aircraft was approaching him from the east and said the other pilot might be purposely toying with him.

At 19:09, Robey asked Valentich to confirm his altitude and that he was unable to identify the aircraft. Valentich gave his altitude as 4,500 ft and said the aircraft was "long", but it was traveling too fast for him to describe it in more detail. Valentich stopped transmitting for about 30 seconds, during which time Robey asked for an estimate of the aircraft's size. Valentich said the aircraft was "orbiting" above him and that it had a shiny metal surface and a green light on it. This was followed by 28-seconds silence before Valentich reported that the aircraft had vanished. There was a further 25-second break in communications before Valentich reported that it was now approaching from the southwest. Twenty-nine seconds later, at 19:12:09, Valentich reported that he was experiencing engine problems and was going to proceed to King Island. There was brief silence until he said "it is hovering and it's not an aircraft". This was followed by 17 seconds of unidentified noise, described as being "metallic, scraping sounds", then all contact was lost.

Search and rescue

A search and rescue alert was given at 19:12. Valentich failed to arrive at King Island by 19:33, and a sea and air search was undertaken, and two RAAF P-3 Orion aircraft searched over a seven-day period. Search efforts continued until 25 October, 1978. Analysis of a fuel slick found roughly near where Valentich had last radioed Robey proved that it was not aviation fuel, and no trace of the aircraft was found. The aircraft was equipped with four life jackets and an emergency radio beacon, and was designed to stay afloat for several minutes.

Official findings

A two-week long Department of Transport (DOT) investigation into Valentich's disappearance was unable to determine the cause, but that it was "presumed fatal" for Valentich. A report published on 27 April 1982, summarised the radio conversations on the evening of 21 October 1978 between Valentich and Robey.

Other findings

Unexplained sounds

During Valentich's final recorded transmission to the Melbourne Service Unit, seventeen seconds of unexplained noise, described as being "metallic, scraping sounds," were recorded by DOT Air Traffic Control audio tape.

Researchers Paul Norman and John W. Auchettl received an edited copy of the original voice tape from the DOT. Auchettl had a copy analysed by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and another was taken to the United States by Norman for analysis by Dr. Richard F. Haines, a former researcher with NASA-Ames and Associate Professor of Psychology at San Jose State University.

Haines described the sounds as "Thirty-six separate bursts with fairly constant start and stop pulses bounding each one," and said that there were "no discernible patterns in time or frequency." The significance of the sounds, if any, has remained undetermined.

The Manifold photographs

Shortly before Valentich's last reported contact with Robey, plumber Roy Manifold set up a time lapse camera and tripod on the shoreline in order to photograph the sun setting over the water. When his pictures were developed they appeared to show a fast moving object exiting the water near Cape Otway lighthouse. Manifold gave the time that the pictures were taken as being approximately 6:47 pm (18:47 hrs), or 20 minutes before Valentich reported having difficulties.

The pictures were later examined by Phoenix, Arizona-based UFO group Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) and by a number of independent experts. Though the pictures were not clear enough to identify the object, UFO groups argue that the distance that the object moved between frames, relative to clouds in the background, indicate a speed of roughly 200 mph.

Dr. Haines wrote of the photographs: "Based on the computerized data of the pictures, it is the consensus of the GSW technicians that the images represent a bona fide unknown flying object, of moderate dimensions, apparently surrounded by a cloud-like vapor/exhaust residue." The suggestion that the objects are solid has been dismissed by UFO skeptics who believe the object to be a cloud formation. No skeptical explanation has been given to account for the object's speed.

UFO sighting reports

After news of Valentich's disappearance became public, a number of individuals reported witnessing unusual activity in the area. Some people claimed to have seen "an erratically moving green light in the sky" and in one instance witnesses, located about 2 km west of Apollo Bay, Victoria, stated that they saw a green light trailing or shadowing Valentich's plane, and that he was in a steep dive at the time. Ufologists said these accounts were significant as most were recorded several years prior to the 1982 release of transcripts in which Valentich had described the object above him as having a green light.

Comments from Valentich's father

According to an Associated Press report, Guido Valentich, the father of the missing pilot, said "he hoped his son had been taken by a UFO and had not crashed. 'The fact that they have found no trace of him presents a possibility that UFOs could have been there.'" Guido Valentich also told the AP that "his son used to study UFOs as a hobby using information he had obtained from the air force. He was not the kind of person who would make up stories. Everything had to be very correct and positive for him.'"

Proposed explanations


Several explanations have been put forward for Valentich's disappearance:

The possibility remains that Valentich staged his own disappearance: even taking into account a trip of between 30 and 45 minutes to Cape Otway, the aircraft still had enough fuel to fly 800 kilometres; despite ideal conditions, at no time was the aircraft plotted on radar, casting doubts as to whether it was ever near Cape Otway; and Melbourne Police received reports of a light aircraft making a mysterious landing not far from Cape Otway at the same time as Valentich's disappearance.

Another proposed explanation is that Valentich became disoriented and was flying upside down. What he thought he saw, if this were the case, would be his own aircraft's lights reflected in the water. He would then have crashed into the water. This was ruled out by aviation authorities, as the Cessna 182 has a high wing with a gravity feed fuel system, making prolonged inverted flight impossible in this model.

In 2000, a private investigation of the incident concluded that Valentich had become disoriented and experienced engine and radio problems that caused him to crash into the sea. It further suggested that the Bass Strait's strong prevailing currents might have carried his relatively light aircraft a long distance before it finally sank.


Unconventional explanations for Valentich's disappearance include speculation by ufologists that the unexplained aircraft with the green light that he reported was a vehicle of some kind, which in turn either abducted Valentich or caused the destruction of his plane in some fashion.

Speculation that a UFO was involved has been fueled by a number of factors, including Valentich's last transmission, in which he described the aircraft shadowing him as "hovering" and "not an aircraft", the unexplained sounds that were heard at the end of his transmission, and a rash of UFO reports from the area.

Open Government records

Australian Government's Department of Transport file was opened in 2012 under the 20-year rule. The file reference on this document was V116/783/1047 "DSJ - Cape Otway to King Island 21 October 1978 - Aircraft Missing (Valentich)" is 315 pages and is open at the NAA.

A Department of Transport's Marine Operations Centre, a MARSAR (Marine Search and Rescue) file also in the 2012 open category is listed in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) file series A4703, control symbol 1978/1205 is titled "VH-DSJ Light aircraft overdue King Island".

Transcript of the transmissions



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